Barcodes for Bees in South Africa

    The science behind barcodes really has come that far, UPC barcodes can now be created to be so small (the size of a grain of rice in fact) that they can be attached to bees! We’ll take a look at how scientists are doing this in just a second, but first, lets take a moment to remind ourselves why these insects are so important. Pollinators are the unsung champions of the food chain. The pollination process provides vital nutrition for the diets of humans and nature overall is sustained by the pollination process. Without creatures like bees, there is no doubt that the world would fall into disrepute. What a scary thought then that bees are under threat of extinction!

    That is where barcodes come into this whole story, scientists through the use of barcodes have been able to collect essential data from the behaviours and traits of bees in order to put plans into action to save these invaluable little creatures. Now, let’s take a closer look at just how they are doing this.

    Barcodes to track the movement of worker bees:

    It goes like this; first the bees are sucked up by a sort of vacuum (very gently of course), then they are immobilized (in a fridge I might add) and finally the barcodes are, very gently, superglued to their backs. Affectionately dubbed the BEE-tag, this system can automatically keep track of hundreds of bees throughout the day through the use of cameras so that their personalities and relations can be monitored. This has helped scientists understand the worker bees on an unprecedented level because they no longer have to stand over a bee colony and observe these patterns with their own eyes. For years it baffled them how worker bees know to take over and collect food when a forager dies, or when to swap jobs with each other. With this handy little barcode, scientists have been able to answer all these questions and even more that they had never thought about before!

    This system of barcoding bees with a BEE-tag has helped make sense of the complicated society of the worker bee under attack by not only predators, but by the human race itself. And while at the moment the method of immobilizing and tagging individual bees seems like a mission, the long-term benefits will be immeasurable.

    DNA-based barcode techniques to track bees in South Africa:

    South African barcodes on bees, how does this work? Basically, DNA-based technology known as next generation sequencing is used to study the DNA from a sample of pollen, which is then compared to information contained in a reference database to gain identifications. Then these particular DNA morsels are used like barcodes in order to recognize the plant species it came from. The database that is used for this comparison needs to be appropriately all-inclusive to facilitate the most precise and thus get the best identifications. The mission to barcode South Africa plants has shown the most substantial growth, which means the database for our country’s wide variety of plants is becoming more comprehensive, which naturally results in a more complete understanding of the pollen that is collected from pollinators like bees.

    This sort of barcoding has helped scientists take great leaps in appreciating the relationship between bees and the plants they pollinate. This is important because pollinators have a direct effect on the lives of humans.

    Everything from our food, to the clothing we buy and even the natural surroundings we hang out in, bees influence everything. Not only this, but pollinators like bees are a crucial element in maintaining the sustainability of the agricultural activities and natural habitats as a whole. Gaining a greater comprehension of how pollinators interact with their environment in carrying out their important jobs and how this changes over time will be an invaluable knowledge-base for the long run, and how exciting that South African scientists are the leaders in this field!

    For more information on how to create a barcode in South Africa, visit

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